What is the Green New Deal?

Green New Deal Presser Wikimedia commons

by Hannah Bernier

The Green New Deal (GND) is a landmark congressional resolution that seeks to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward J. Markey introduced this resolution to the United States Congress in 2019 in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report in 2018 that reported that global warming must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This report also predicted that if global warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it will result in a climate refugee crisis, significant ecosystem losses, economic losses of $5 trillion in the United States, and real estate/infrastructure losses of $1 trillion in the US, among other effects. To stop this warming, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by about 50 percent from 2010 to 2030, and the world must have net-zero global emissions by 2050. The Green New Deal acknowledges that because the US has been a large contributor to climate change by emitting a disproportionately high amount of greenhouse gases, it has the responsibility to take decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the well-being of its citizens as well as the global community. 

The Green New Deal calls for a 10-year economic mobilization at the scale of the New Deal program led by the federal government to cut net greenhouse gas emissions in the US to zero over the next 10 years. However, this is not the sole goal of the GND: it also serves to increase economic security for all people in the US by providing jobs and social safety nets, as well as addressing and dismantling oppressive systems that hurt frontline and vulnerable communities. The Green New Deal includes a set of broadly-defined goals, including fostering clean manufacturing, encouraging the widespread use of renewable energy, reducing pollutants from agricultural activities, generating millions of jobs with a living wage, providing every US resident with healthcare, economic security, clean water, and healthy food. If passed, the resolution would not be legally binding; it is instead a commitment by Congress to the American people to create and implement policies and programs to aid in this economic mobilization. 

The Green New Deal is not without its critics: many see the plan as unrealistic if not harmful. Though some policymakers and people see the Green New Deal as an opportunity for large-scale mobilization, others find the GND too broad and too vague to be a reasonable starting point for addressing climate change. In March 2019 the resolution was defeated in Congress, yet many individual states, cities, and local jurisdictions have begun to implement Green New Deal policies within their own jurisdictions. For example, in September 2020, Tucson, Arizona’s Mayor Regina Romero and the Tucson City Council declared a “climate emergency” and set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. Based on the Green New Deal, the City of Tucson has committed $250,000 to a holistic 10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan that includes, but is not limited to, using clean and local energy, electrifying the city’s public transit, implementing massive tree planting programs, committing to zero waste by 2050, and investing in green infrastructure. Tucson is one of the 120 local governments in the US that has declared a climate emergency. Many of these local jurisdictions are committing to the values and ideas proposed in the Green New Deal and implementing their own site-specific initiatives. 

The Green New Deal is markedly different from environmental movements and policies of the past. The US mainstream environmental movement–from John Muir’s call for conservation of public land in the early 1900s to the passage of anti-DDT laws after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring book published in 1962–has for the most part focused on single-issue policies and programs. It has not addressed the larger systems of oppression and exploitation that have caused degradation to land and human health, and only sought surface-level solutions. Also, many policies within the conservation movement disenfranchised Indigenous peoples from their lands and restricted land and resource accessibility to Black people. The Green New Deal is distinct from past (white) environmental movements in that it is holistic, comprehensive, and seeks to dismantle and rebuild systems that exploit people and land. It acknowledges the systemic injustices that have hurt the health and wellbeing of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other frontline communities, and has a sustained focus on equity and justice.

The Green New Deal is a chance for the United States to devote significant resources to solving its own dependency on greenhouse gases, and to address its own systemic racism. It is a chance for the country to come to terms with its own reality and to do better at taking care of its people while caring for the entire Earth by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Green New Deal is inherently transformational; it includes a mass mobilization of people and resources to address systemic injustices and unsustainable practices that contribute to and are exacerbated by climate change. 

Resources for further reading

House – Energy and Commerce; Science, Space, and Technology; Education and Labor; 

Transportation and Infrastructure; Agriculture; Natural Resources; Foreign Affairs; 

Financial Services; Judiciary; Ways and Means; Oversight and Reform, and 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Resolution, Congress.gov §. 109 (2019). 


Aidt, Mik. “Climate Emergency Declarations in 1,838 Jurisdictions and Local 

Governments Cover 820 Million Citizens.” Climate Emergency Declaration, 

November 17, 2020. 



Chatzky, Andrew. “Envisioning a Green New Deal: A Global Comparison.” Council on 

Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, October 21, 2020. 


Meyer, Robinson. “The 3 Democrats Who Voted Against the Green New Deal.” The 

Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 27, 2019. 



Staff, KOLD News 13. “Tucson Declares Climate Emergency; Council Commits to 

10-Year Plan for Change.” https://www.kold.com, September 11, 2020. 



“Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C Approved by 

Governments.” IPCC Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global 

Warming of 15C approved by governments Comments. Accessed November 19, 2020. 



All We Can Save

Philippe Dekyvere, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All We Can Save: The Power of Environmental Community-Building

Certain texts have come to define revolutionary movements. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson catalyzed environmental health legislation in the 1970s, and This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, a foundational intersectional third-wave feminist collection show the power of women writers to incite crucial social justice movements. Texts like these have defined the problem, rallied change-makers and community activists, and served as a blueprint for the future. All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, now takes its place alongside other revolutionary texts. A collection of essays and poems by women leaders addressing climate change, All We Can Save considers the climate crisis from a diverse array of perspectives and places, and provides a powerful call to heal climate injustices through community and connection. 

The collection flows through a series of eight interconnected themes that the editors address in the introduction: root, advocate, reframe, reshape, persist, feel, nourish, and rise. Each theme highlights myriad ways women are leading their communities toward sustainable pathways. The title of the collection, All We Can Save, pays homage to poet Adrienne Rich, whose message of radical hope I considered in my previous blog post. In her poem “Natural Resources,” Rich mourns the past losses of “all I cannot save,” yet recommits to the cause of reconstituting the world. The women featured in this collection speak of their experiences of climate-related losses yet remain committed to finding equitable solutions.

The activists, artists, politicians, scientists, and citizens who wrote the essays in this collection highlight the ways in which their work is impactful and necessary, and share their visions for a just and sustainable future. Some of the most notable essays include “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth” by Sherri Mitchell, who argues that Indigenous ways of life can inform a sustainable future for all. In “Black Gold”  Leah Penniman describes how Afro-Indigenous farming practices can help reconnect Americans with the land and soil. The essays and poems in this collection don’t gloss over the pain already caused by climate destruction and systemic inequalities, but they also consider how feelings of joy and sorrow can, in this moment in history, serve as catalysts for change. 

The connective thread between all of the works in All We Can Save is the concept of community. Editors Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson wanted to show how communities of care that focus on climate solutions are crucial to creating a just and sustainable society. There is a sense that we already have the solutions we need to solve the climate crisis‒what comes next is harnessing our collective and individual power to implement solutions and mobilize communities. 

In the end, All We Can Save is an invitation to those entering the climate movement, a source of encouragement for those currently working on climate solutions, and a rallying call to cultivate environmental community-building as a source of hope and action. 

Resources for further reading

Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth, and Katharine K. Wilkinson. All We Can Save. 


Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth, and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, 

and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. New York: One World, 2020.

Kaplan, Sarah. “They Edited a Book about the Climate Crisis. Here’s What They Learned about 

Hope.” The Washington Post. WP Company, August 31, 2020. 



Mitchell, Sherri, and Rivera Sun. “Love (and Revolution) Radio.” Rivera Sun. 


“Soul Fire Farm.” SOUL FIRE FARM. https://www.soulfirefarm.org/. 

Watch, Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm director and author of “Farming While Black,” talk with Chris Hedges, author of “America: The Farewell Tour,” about environmental threats, societal breakdown, and how we might come back together as humans. Then, a glimpse of CAGED, a play written and conceived by Hedges’ writing students in a high-security prison in New Jersey. To donate to forward-thinking media, go to www.lauraflanders.org/10Years.

Watch an interview with Leah Penniman https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Decline_-_A_Case_for_Optimism.webm

Adrienne Rich and the Language of Hope

By Hannah Bernier, RHS Intern. October 1, 2020

originally posted to Flickr as Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich 1980, from Wikipedia Commons

“What would it mean to stand on the first page of the end of despair?”

This is the question many of us are asking ourselves as we wonder when the U.S. government will take concrete action to address climate change and its many consequences. As each day brings us closer to the critical deadline of global temperatures increasing by 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels, it is easy to focus on the failures that led us to this point. While it may seem disheartening to do so, the chance to redefine our position within the climate crisis can change despair into a call for action and even has the potential to transform endings into beginnings. Channeling climate anxiety into actions like connecting with climate advocacy groups, adopting sustainable practices, and even creating art can generate  hope and connection. 

Adrienne Rich, whose poetry and essays have become crucial texts in second wave feminist discourse, wrote extensively about finding hope in the midst of despair. She made insightful connections between gender, racial, and environmental issues, and blended her art and activism in a manner that was unusual during her lifetime. Never one to shy away from the complexity found in connection, her work shows how art is a critical form of engagement with people and places. In her essay “Woman and Bird” she describes the richness that can be found in interdisciplinary engagement with the keen observation that “poetry and politics both have to do with description and with power. And so, of course, does science. We might hope to find the three activities‒poetry, science, politics‒triangulated, with extraordinary electrical exchanges moving from each to each and through our lives.”

Rich’s life is a testament to how engagement with social and environmental issues happens on a variety of levels: personal and professional, individual and collective. She worked to reconcile these dichotomies through intersectional explorations of her own identity as a Jewish lesbian woman, numerous speeches and lectures about gender and racial inequalities, and participation in organizations such as the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) program at the City College of New York that created opportunities for groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Rich saw how varying levels of hierarchy interacted within educational and social systems, and worked with other activists and teachers to break them down through art and education. Extrapolating these ideas to the current climate crisis, the need for not only interdisciplinary but also intersectional approaches to environmental justice will be critical to lasting solutions.

The work to be done is difficult and serious but does not require isolation. Reframing individual responsibility as a dynamic component of a social ecosystem allows for greater hope and understanding in discussions about climate change. While some, like Rich, have the skill of weaving ideas and disciplines together into emergent forms, others may find their methods of contribution tied to other activities such as healing, building, or teaching. The key, however, is in the recognition that social ecosystems, like their biological eponym, have “extraordinary electrical exchanges” between component parts, and we have the opportunity to engage with them. 

In the poem “Dreams Before Waking,” Rich reminds us of the responsibility to act in order to heal despair when she asks:

What would it mean to live

in a city whose people were changing

each other’s despair into hope?‒

You yourself must change it.‒

What would it feel like to know

your country was changing?‒

You yourself must change it.‒

Though your life felt arduous

new and unmapped and strange

what would it mean to stand on the first

page of the end of despair?

The hope required to make serious change is both an individual and collective effort, a continuous cycle of reflection and action. So how can you turn despair into hope? Read a book, have a difficult conversation, join a movement. Learn, connect, and act. 

Resources for further reading 

Iyer, Deepa. “Mapping Our Roles in Social Change Ecosystems.” Building Movement Project, 




Miller, K. R. “Personal Weather: Rereading Adrienne Rich for the Anthropocene.” Michigan 

Quarterly Review. The University of Michigan, September 20, 2016. 



Moynihan, Colin. “A New York Clock That Told Time Now Tells the Time Remaining.” The 

New York Times. The New York Times, September 20, 2020. 


Rich, Adrienne, Albert Gelpi, Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, and Brett C. Millier. Selected Poems, 

1950-2012. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. 

Rich, Adrienne, and Sandra M. Gilbert. Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of 

Poetry. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. 

Savonick, Danica. “Changing the Subject: Adrienne Rich and the Poetics of Activist Pedagogy.” 

American Literature, vol. 89, no. 2, Duke University Press, June 2017, pp. 305–29, 


Small is Beautiful: Idea in Context

By Hannah Bernier, Sept. 20, 2020

Photo: Brocken Inaglory, “A small flower,” Wikimedia Commons

Much of the last six months have consisted of turning inward: taking stock of what we have, sitting in the reality of our lives and the environment within which we live. What kinds of systems sustain us? Do we live in a compassionate society, one that values people and the environment? In what ways can we sustain our communities in a time of increased isolation? As the pandemic continues, it becomes apparent that empathy may be our strongest asset and it is one that should be applied in various sectors of our society. It is becoming increasingly clear, for instance, that empathetic economic practices are crucial to supporting health and well-being.

Published in 1973, Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher is a foundational collection of essays about environmentalism, economies of scale, and Buddhist economics. Schumacher argued that Western economics was too focused on maximizing expansion and consumption, and had lost sight of how to create meaning from life and work. Instead, he advocated for a system built on the Buddhist ethic of “right livelihood,” where human well-being would become the foremost economic concern and the consumption of goods should only reach the level necessary to uphold human dignity. 

Others were influenced by his work. Kate Raworth developed the economic model called the doughnut framework in 2017. This model also acknowledged the modern economy’s focus on profit over people, and sets out to find a “safe and just space for humanity,” where social and environmental wellness reach a dynamic balance.  Her “equilibrium goal” provides us with another vision of the future that focuses attention on an economic narrative that can better serve both humans and nature. 

Still others decided to “live their values,” expressing social solidarity and environmental consciousness by deciding to forgo participation in the modern capitalist system. Take the Possibility Alliance in rural Missouri. In 2007 they built a simple living community based on principles like the gift economy, permaculture practices, electricity and petroleum-free living, and social justice. Founders Ethan Hughes and Sarah Wilcox constructed their community around the following mantra: “I don’t want my freedom, comfort, and mobility to require killing, polluting, and exploiting.” Taking the “small is beautiful” idea to the extreme, their lifestyle continues to be an experiment in ultra-local living based on solidarity and reciprocity. 

At the end of his books, Schumacher poses the question many of us find ourselves asking today: “Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ We can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order.” A crucial part of instilling radical hope into the framework of our communities is remembering that we have all the tools necessary to do so. Our diverse backgrounds and relationship to land mean we can rise to meet current social and environmental challenges in creative and nourishing ways if we commit to doing so. These concepts are not just an ethos to aspire to, they’re an invitation to begin action within ourselves and our communities. Small is beautiful, so look closely. 


Osmond, Jordan and Antoinette Wilson, directors. Living a Radically Simple Permaculture Life

Happen Films, 26 June 2018, happenfilms.com/film/creatures-of-place. 

Raworth, Kate. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st-Century Economist

Random House Business Books, 2017. 

Schumacher, E. F. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered. Harper Perennial, 2014. 

Sundeen, Mark. The Unsettlers: in Search of the Good Life in Today’s America. Riverhead 

Books, 2018.

The Work of Restoration

In the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Potawatomi author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer reflects on the relationship between Indigenous knowledge and science. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, she told the reporter: “At a time of climate change…I can’t help but cling to the notion that it’s not the land that’s broken, it is our relationship to land that’s broken.” She understands the “deep ecological grief” many feel. ‘Grief is a measure of how much we love. And so I honor that grief,’ Kimmerer added. “But then you roll up your sleeves. Out of the love that you have for the world — that’s expressed in that grief — then you get to work, the work of restoration.” This idea could be a core value of Radical Hope. There’s no need to reject the grief — instead, we can use despair to motivate us in the work of restoration.

What words get used?

Dan Zak has a new article in the Washington Post which is, as much as anything,  brief history of the messaging surrounding climate change. It nicely illustrates the difficulty we face when discussing a topic like climate crisis or climate breakdown in the classroom or in public.  In the article, Zak provides numerous examples of how different words have been appropriated and re-appropriated, how meaning has been amplified or stripped from different concepts depending on who, when, and how a given term is invoked. In one hopeful example, he states, for instance, that “women are rewording climate conversations to honor the collective, connective nature of the problem.” During this important  moment more scrutiny to words will serve us well. Check out Zak’s piece.

Beyond Despair

If the RHS has been a helpful resource, you may want to attend the following conference — run at the National Humanities Center.



Beyond Hope and Looking at the Ordinary

Tania Katzschner

Perhaps it is more important to be in community, vulnerable and real and whole, than to be right, or to be winning  — adrienne maree brown


These times of upheaval call on us to explore new ways of coming into touch and to recognise that there are other possibilities. Many attempts to ‘save the world’ only end up reinstating the status quo. The world is bigger and more curious than solutions.

I’d like to ad the above article “Beyond Hope” by Derrick Jensen to the section of the course on ‘Looking at the ordinary – a tender practice of forging relationships’. In it

Jensen speaks of the impulse to “save” the world coming from a place of love and allowing oneself to be touched. By drawing on the idea of ‘love’, it is hoped that we can learn to see in such a way that things come alive again.

We live in incoherent times, each day the unraveling of the biosphere becomes more and more apparent with plastic landscapes, catastrophic droughts, rising carbon emissions, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, and the proliferation of the dreadful and horrific. How to respond to the crisis of nature that defines our time is an urgent question. The creation of a more sustainable world depends on a fundamental shift of our dominant relationship with nature.  Assumptions that culture and nature occupy different dimensions are beginning to shatter and being disrupted.  This moment invites us to create the means for posing problems differently.

The ‘Looking at the Ordinary’ section of the course attempts to do this by reflecting on the practices and sensibilities of a transformative urban nature project in Cape Town.  The Cape Flats Nature (CFN) project aimed to “build good practice in sustainable management of City nature conservation sites in a way that benefits surrounding communites, particularly those where incomes are low and living condition poor” (Soal and van Blerk, 2005). The project risked slowing down to nurture profound levels of observation and conversation in order to protect capabilities for flourishing. The project created spaces for competing ideas, discussion and debate and helped create conditions where anything could happen, especially that which is beyond our limited knowledge of cause and effect.

I want to suggest that such work, attention and ‘love’ is helpful in imagining socio-environmentalism differently, without destroying relationships and awakening us to the possibility of a world where genuine care and concern can flourish. Such work and practice helps us to develop greater attention, awareness, openness and love. By turning the lens on feeling, learning and empathising, it disrupts the colonial stewardship and mastery idea. Could we instead be lovers of other than human beings?  I believe we would do well to ‘normalise’ some of their radical, unorthodox ideas and practices around urban conservation that contribute to the birthing of a new story and narrative and to spread the vibration of love and life.





Hope, Action, and Questions for Students

“Hope and its doleful twin, Hopelessness, might be thought of as the co-muses of the modern eco-narrative. Such is the world we’ve created—a world of wounds—that loss is, almost invariably, the nature writer’s subject. The question is how we relate to that loss. Is the glass ninety-five per cent empty or is it five per cent full?” This is the question Rebecca Solnit asks in her recent New Yorker article.  And, it’s an important one. What role will hope play in our future? Admittedly, a limited one if it’s not accompanied by ACTION. What actions will we take in the future? Perhaps looking a which approaches to the environmental issues have been most successful in the past can serve as a useful guide. Take a look at some of the sections on the syllabus and see what an assessment of them yields.